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“For 25 years sustainable development has been held up as the solution to the world’s problems. But instead we have had ever more pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. Sustainability has been abused like few other terms in history. It is time to think not just about sustaining the world’s badly damaged ecosystems and human communities, but about regenerating them instead?” That introduction to this year’s Schumacher Lectures in the UK offers good food for thought this Earth Day.

E.F. Schumacher, author of the 1973 classic Small is Beautiful, had a career that included two decades as Chief Economic Advisor to the UK National Coal Board and more notable final years as an advocate for “appropriate technologies”—which Wikipedia describes as “encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.”

Fritz was one of a handful of seminal thinkers—including Robert Rodale and Buckminster Fuller—who were speaking, way back in the 1970s, about regeneration, regenerative economies, the regenerative  capacity of earth’s ecosystems. These regenerative roots of what we now call the sustainability movement provide, I think, a more fertile meme than mere “sustainability.”

Here’s a test to see if I’m right:

If your company were focused on building regenerative capacity—its own, of its value chain, of its communities, of the local and planetary ecosystems that support it—how might you do your business differently?

What new opportunities might emerge?

That’s why Natural Logic is looking for 3 companies to join us in a business experiment—a phased, disciplined, and frankly confrontive exploration of the massive business value at the intersection of your business, your purpose and what the world needs from you.

Will yours be one of them?

Systems thinking. It’s trending. It’s cool. It’s not a panacea. (Hunter Lovins and I would blast a claxon horn at our Presidio MBA students whenever they used “systems thinking” as a selling point in their pitch presentations—as though it were a self-explanatory magic bullet—instead of demonstrating how they’d actually use systems thinking to identify and deliver value that would otherwise slip through the cracks of a more traditional, reductionist, compartmentalized, mechanistic approach.)

I’ve been a “systems guy” for as long as I can remember. (A year out of college, I spent the summer with Buckminster Fuller and crew at the World Game Workshop, and was transformed by the planetary scale, every-thing-on-the-table perspective of Bucky’s “comprehensive anticipatory design science,” and by the deep, data-driven understanding that there was no necessary physical or resource barrier to “a world that works for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense, or the disadvantage of anyone.” I was even headed for a doctorate in systems science, but put it off for a year to pioneer rooftop agriculture at Institute for Local Self-Reliance in the early ’70s, and then another year, and then another…and here I am, still having too much fun doing the work to take a “detour” through academia.)

The downside to this innateness is that it’s been easy for me to take a systems perspective for granted, assuming that everyone thinks this way; I was wrong, and I’ve come to understand that there are people who see the world as pattern, and people who see it as things. Both are entirely valid—and useful—views, but we can’t assume we understand each other unless we make a conscious effort to bridge the conceptual divide.

It’s most effective, I’ve found, to… [continued next week]

I was deeply honored last month when I was inducted as inaugural member of the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals — both for the honor itself, and for the company I shared. Here’s what I said (as best as I can remember) as I accepted the award from Marsha Willard:

All of us stand on the shoulders of others, so it’s an exceptional honor for me to be recognized together with those on whose shoulders I’ve stood. The other inductees have been my teachers and my heroes, and I’m humbled and moved to share this award with them.
I’ve known Amory Lovins for more than 30 years — and learned from his physicist’s way of thinking, his rigor, and his bold reinventing of how we think about energy.
Karl-Henrik Robert and I have known each other only about 15 years, and I have been grateful each of those years for the unstoppable elegance of the Natural Step framework — still the most dependable tool in my toolkit.
Bob Willard, maybe only ten years, but speaking of toolkits, Bob has, probably more than anyone, been delivering the tools for making the sustainability business case.
And of course Ray Anderson, who we lost just a few weeks ago, who took all the things so many of us talk about and put them to work at the heart of a multi-billion dollar corporation — with humility, grace and effectiveness. A prince.
There are many other sets of shoulders to mention, but I’ll name just one. I began this work in 1972, when I spent a month at the World Game Workshop with Buckminster Fuller and his organization. In a month long design charrette for the planet, I learned — I demonstrated for myself, in big picture, whole systems design, and in nitty gritty, down in the weeds analysis — that there’s no necessary barrier to human success on this planet, only our will. I signed on, back then, to contribute whatever I could to (in Bucky’s words), “a world that works for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological defense, or the disadvantage of anyone.” That’s been my guide ever since.
And here we are today, working to transform the economy of an entire planet. This planet. In one generation. I’m honored to be in this work, and honored to be in it with you.